U.S. immigration reform talks stalled by wage disputes

Fri Mar 22, 2013 10:05pm EDT

* AFL-CIO, Chamber of Commerce trade accusations

* Senators insist deal on reforms will be reached

By Richard Cowan and Rachelle Younglai

WASHINGTON, March 22 (Reuters) - Senate negotiations on revamping the U.S. immigration system are stalled over wages for future low-skilled foreign workers such as construction laborers, cooks, janitors and hotel maids, sources familiar with the talks said on Friday.

Bipartisan talks aimed at producing a comprehensive immigration law - including a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants and a new process for controlling the flow of temporary workers - have been underway for months and were close to producing a bill.

There were conflicting versions of the disagreement.

According to one source who asked not to be identified, the eight senators involved in the discussions had tentatively agreed on a plan to govern wage levels for low-skilled foreigners who would be given visas to work in the United States temporarily.

The source said Democrats presented a plan and Republicans accepted it, but when senators showed it to the AFL-CIO, the labor union federation said no.

But, according to the AFL-CIO, Democrats presented Republicans with a plan and the Republicans rejected it.

The proposal would have borrowed language on wages for temporary workers from the "H2B" visa program for temporary, seasonal workers.

That specifies that the visas will only be issued if they do not drive down the wages of those doing the same job in the United States.

Also in dispute was the inclusion of construction workers in the plan, which business wants and labor does not.

As senators tried to wrap up the complex negotiations and then leave Washington for a two-week recess, business and labor groups traded accusations.

Randel Johnson, a senior vice president of the U.S Chamber of Commerce, Washington's largest business lobby, said "unions have jeopardized the entire immigration reform effort...because of their refusal to take a responsible stance on a small temporary worker program."

Organized labor had a similarly angry characterization of the status of talks. "There is an uncomprehending level of anger. We have conceded on so many different grounds. They (Republicans) want to pave the path to citizenship with poverty," said Jeff Hauser, a spokesman with the AFL-CIO.

In the midst of the labor-business dispute, senators were still voicing optimism for getting a deal. Support from organized labor and the chamber is considered crucial to getting any immigration law through the Congress.

Finding a solution acceptable to both has always been considered the most difficult challenge by the group of four Republicans and four Democrats involved in the negotiations.

On Friday, Republican Senator John McCain of Arizona, one of the eight, said that while he was "guardedly optimistic" about the negotiations, "we hit bumps every five minutes."

On Thursday, another member of the group, Democratic Senator Charles Schumer of New York, told reporters the bipartisan group would meet its end-of-month timetable for a deal. Schumer said it would be "an agreement with a darn good chance of becoming law."

While that was before negotiations between the Chamber and AFL-CIO spiraled into open warfare, a spokesman for Schumer late Friday said the senator stands by his statement.

The eight senators will continue talking during the congressional recess, according to aides. (Edited by Fred Barbash and Lisa Shumaker)

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Comments (5)
Kuby wrote:
Reads that there selling the American worker again. Haven’t they done enough of that over the past decades. These are truly sad time to even be called an American when we have congressman trashing there own.

Mar 22, 2013 11:32pm EDT  --  Report as abuse
badbakkaruda wrote:
He states that Unions have jeopardized this action because of a “small, temporary workforce”. Although I have no love for unions I agree that 11,000,000 workers is no SMALL,TEMPORARY WORKFORCE…get real…there aren’t enough jobs for the current US work place…do we seriously need more workers of any kind??? NO,NO,and NO. Send them home to Mejico

Mar 22, 2013 11:42pm EDT  --  Report as abuse
richie.rich wrote:
What most people fail to realize is that immigration is a supply and demand phenomenon. America needs cheap labor. If American businesses cannot find it here, they’ll go where it can be found: other countries. Simply take a look at the tags on the clothes you’re wearing, the electronic gadgets you use, the food you eat and the cars you drive (even domestic cars have foreign-made parts.)It doesn’t take long before you realize not much is made on domestic soil anymore.
Construction, farming, restaurant and other retail service jobs cannot be done outside. Thus the need for temporary workers. Badbakkaruda claims the aren’t enough jobs for the legal workers. The fact is: there are plenty of jobs for the US work force, these happen to be the low paying, labor intensive jobs most Americans simply don’t want to do. It makes more sense to sit at home on unemployment and other state benefits all the while complaining about illegal immigration. @ Kuby and badbakkaruda: either get an education in economics or a job washing dishes at a sushi bar.

Mar 22, 2013 12:36am EDT  --  Report as abuse
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